Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Reshmin Chowdhury on BAME representation within the sports media industry

Posted on 10 December 2018 by Michael Jordan

Raheem Sterling’s statement which voiced his feelings that racism within football is fuelled by newspapers and the media has necessarily brought an ever-so ugly issue surrounding the sport to a head.

We find ourselves living in one of the most thriving and diverse ages where anyone with a dream and a blossoming talent — no matter how raw can create their own platform to express their voice and find an audience.

Yet major sports broadcasters still require a push towards an inclusive outlook, to nurture this talent, breaking the mould of dated practices.

While sport itself has proven a social vehicle for inclusion, equality and togetherness recently, the statistics presented at the D Word 3 conference — hosted by the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS) at the BT Sport studios to raise awareness of these issues — are indicative of sports media coverage lagging far behind.

Among an array of statistics, out of the 338 roles across broadcast and written media that were covered, BAME women occupied eleven. Zero of these were within the written press. 

Furthermore, from a written standpoint – there was just one (yes, just one) black writer across 63 roles at the FIFA World Cup.

Reshmin Chowdhury — a regular guest panellist of the D Word conference — has one of the most impressive CVs within the business, only matched by her searing passion and drive for her craft.

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She’s one of very few BAME women working among the major sports broadcasters and, despite an awareness of this lack of representation, there’s only been a 1.95% of BAME women across the industry since 2016.

Reshmin told the Sports Gazette: “At the first D Word event, people were so angry. Every single sports broadcaster was made to answer direct, probing questions about why more hasn’t been done with regards to representation and it got very heated.

“The stats suggest that the progress has been very slow and I do believe some broadcasters are lagging behind others. This isn’t just about who’s in front of the camera either, that’s the easy way to do it. You have to address who’s making the decisions, whose ideas are producing the shows.”

She explained: “It can only be incremental, because you need to have the talent pool ready and this is what I said at the very first event. I couldn’t entirely blame the broadcasters back then because the pool of diverse talent was small. However, that was four years ago, so everyone has had a chance to build on that and as always, I think they could have done more.”

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A major issue within the sports media is the lack of clear entry points for those of a diverse background. The pathways to squeeze their foot in the door appear blurred and a lack of opportunities to attain industry-specific training makes getting that all important first job that much harder.

“I think it’s like the chicken and the egg. Which one comes first? Do you go out and develop a wealth of talent or do you just pick out people for marquee positions because of their background? That’s not right either.

“I can see arguments for the Rooney Rule, but in an industry as cut-throat as this you have to be there on merit. You’ve got to prove yourself on the job and it shouldn’t be about your colour. I think there is a major talent pool out there, but the problem is the closed nature of the industry means they’re not getting in.”

Reshmin added: “Everyone looks top down and it’s as if bosses are looking to fill positions x, y or z to make a point, but where are these people coming from? There has to be a bigger will to get out there and help the next generation and I don’t think that these strides have been made yet.”

“This industry can be so much about who you know, the culture is very ‘matey’ and that is a massive barrier if sport, journalism or both are not part of your immediate world. My dad was an accountant, my mum was a teacher and I didn’t know anyone doing my job — how would I get into sports journalism?

“I didn’t have that entry point,” she continued: “so I had to be creative and that’s where most of us are. Everything is a brick wall. Social media has certainly made the industry more accessible, but that doesn’t always result in a job or progress once you get your foot in the door.”

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These obstacles also stood in Reshmin’s path when she broke through into the industry, but she clarified that these obstacles can be overcome by unerring self-belief and relentless perseverance.

“I worked as a journalist in London but ended up going to Madrid to get my on-screen experience,” Reshmin explained. “I just knew it would never happen here quickly enough. I was looking at the industry and thinking: who is going to take a chance on me? No one.

“People are too busy. It’s fast-paced. They’re not necessarily looking for that next big talent unless you land on their doorstep when they need you to!

“I knew that I had to look elsewhere, so I fast-tracked myself by going to Spain for two years and doing all the things I knew I could do here, if someone gave me a chance.”

Alex Scott and Eni Aluko have worked as pundits during the 2018 FIFA World Cup and many other women have become a mainstay in sports TV, changing the old fashioned mindset of many throughout the industry.

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Their work has proven to be a monumental step and provides inspiration for young females that they can also reach the profession’s pinnacle.

“They’re not just knowledgeable, they’re so engaging. What they have done has been massive and I think it’s brilliant that the major broadcasters have brought in female pundits.

“People had become so used to one way of doing things so it’s about time someone challenged the norm. It’s about changing perceptions.”

With this progression of gender representation on-screen, it’s now about making similar strides off-screen, which is still very male-dominated. It’s also about getting more women involved who don’t come from a professional sporting background.

“I think it’s great that as professional sportspeople, the female punditshave also worked hard to have the skills to be able to do what they’re doing. However, if you’re not from a sports background, then it’s more difficult to prove your worth. You need credibility and that only comes via longevity, via being good at what you do and by being able to display your knowledge.”

Speaking about her own experiences, Reshmin stated: “I have rarely heard people question my credibility, to my face at least, but I’m aware that being an Asian woman right in the heart of football probably raised a few eyebrows in the beginning.”

“I don’t really care what people think, though. I’ve been a massive football fan since I was a kid, I’ve worked so hard and have sacrificed a lot to do what I’m doing. I also juggle my job with my two young children, so no one can question my commitment. I’ve slogged – and continue to slog – at every level to earn my stripes.”

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One of Reshmin’s most impressive skills is her language proficiency, a skill that’s set her apart during her time abroad. Nonetheless, she still found herself needed to push British broadcasters to air interviews requiring a translator, something they’ve previously been sceptical of.

“With BT Sport being a “host broadcaster” in the Champions League, UEFA often offer you unexpected interviews after a game. Yet my first interview with Zinedine Zidane at the Bernabeu during his first season as Real Madrid manager didn’t even make it to air.”

I was incredulous and said to my boss “When does Zidane ever speak to British TV? How do you not use it?” In fairness to them, they realised this and changed things up. Now they always have a translator in for post-match interviews.”

The sleeping giants are slowly awakening to the issues that need to be addressed with a much greater sense of urgency.

The industry as a whole is beginning to pave the way for a new way of doing things and it’s crucial that people are given the confidence to believe that a new school of thought is in fact being implemented for future generations.

“You’ve got to show genuine commitment for change to actually happen and I think that’s the biggest challenge. There has to be trust.

“People are still unsure if the big broadcasters are making these changes because they really want to, not just to tick a box or because they’re being held to account.”

It is individuals like Reshmin who are leading the progression throughout the sports media, however it is clear that a great deal of work is still to be done to achieve a more open and diverse industry.

Featured photograph/Oli Stein